Carson City, Nev., is better known for its Wild West history and for being the capital of Nevada than it is as a center for the motorsports industry.
However, there’s a building on Convair Drive in that city where raw material goes in one side and boxes of rocker arms emerge from the other to be shipped to engine builders in every racing series imaginable.
That approximately 12,000-square-foot building is the headquarters of T&D Machine Products.
Like many racing businesses, the company’s impetus was a racer working alone at night in his home garage. Larry Tores was a California street racer first, and then moved into drag racing at the amateur level and did well.
Tores was working as a design engineer for an aluminum company by day, and making some of his own parts in his garage at home in the evening in order to make his race car faster. Word of mouth spread and other racers asked him to make parts for them, too.
The parts work increased so much he was able to move from the home garage to a small shop in Culver City, Calif., where he concentrated on producing parts for transmissions as well as rocker arms. Tores also made a variety of parts that were private labeled for other manufacturers.
He continued to build his reputation through drag racing and over the years he set many records and won in Stock, Super Stock and Competition Eliminator, was NHRA Division VII champion and amassed a collection of regional and national victories.
The “spark” that really ignited T&D was a unique shaft-mount roller rocker arm system that caught Buick’s attention.
T&D’s Phil Elliott tells the story.
“Larry was friends with people who were developing parts for Buick at the time for different things, like Jim McFarland,” he remembered. “They thought Larry would be a good person to have on board when the stock-block V-6 Buick came out for Indy car racing. They were breaking the rocker systems for those engines constantly, but when they used his system, it didn’t break.
“Larry was involved with both Buick’s IRL and its NASCAR Busch Grand National program; T&D products were in all those engines. The Buick V-6 never won the Indy 500, but it did qualify on the pole.”
Business boomed as use of the T&D shaft rocker systems spread to other racing disciplines. In 1992, T&D moved to a larger facility in Carson City, Nev. Seven years later, that building was expanded by 75 percent.
Today, T&D Machine Parts has close to 70 employees. It’s enough for two shifts, and sometimes the company works six days a week. It is considered an essential business by the government, so it hasn’t been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, a company spokesperson said despite the pandemic, the phones haven’t really stopped, with the calls coming in waves as racers continued to prepare for races.
T&D has many of the latest CNC machining centers and it produces shaft-mount rocker arm systems for more than 500 cylinder heads, all manufactured in-house. The only exceptions are some extremely high-quality bearings that are outsourced and a variety of heat-treating steps, but the bulk of the work is done under the same roof in Carson City.
Shaft-mount roller rockers like T&D’s make engine builders’ jobs easier. T&D’s rockers have fully pressurized oiling to provide continuous lubrication to the trunnion bearing and roller tip. They also use larger shafts and bearings. The larger adjuster and jam nut combo is a big advantage because it makes for easier adjusting. The larger adjuster has more thread contact to rigidly lock in lash adjustment.
T&D does build some tools for checking dimensions in rear ends and produces an engine blueprinting kit, but rocker arms are its main business, and racing is its biggest market.
The blueprinting kit is interesting in that with this one kit, one can measure crankshaft stroke, piston deck clearance, piston compression height, crank-to-block deck, pushrod length, cam lift, connecting rod length and other dimensions engine builders need to know.
T&D doesn’t recommend its rocker arms for street use and it is not in the aerospace business. It does have research-and-development projects with some OEM manufacturers, but it doesn’t have anything that comes off their assembly lines.
“Racing is our primary business,” Elliott explained. “Our biggest segment of racing is drag racing, but there isn’t a racing series where we aren’t involved. And approximately 75 percent of all T&D rocker arms are custom orders, with a little more ratio here and a little more offset there. Because nearly every engine builder and race team has a different agenda, we try to give them what they want and need.”